There’s bucket-loads of ‘dominate the Middle East + North Africa market’ advice out there (particularly from self-appointed marketing gurus hawking their one-size-fits-all technicolour dreamcoats). But what really deserves your time and attention as a marketer on a mission to make a ding in the MENA universe?
Marketing is about common sense, knowing who your customer is beyond stats and demographics, and most importantly, being authentic in your message to the masses – or a niche as the case may be.
For the common sense bit, Middle East businesses would do well to add a generous helping of digital and social to their marketing mix, considering, for instance, that 91% of online consumers in the UAE have taken action after seeing a message (an online ad, video, or website content) from a brand that is relevant to them.
As this Google infographic shows, UAE consumers don’t merely go online – they live there! The wider Middle East landscape shares much of the same peculiarities, albeit with a few minor differences.
Of course, there are many other variables to consider to make your Middle East marketing memorable, but authenticity trumps just about everything else.
And while much of what is relayed here is universally applicable, marketers in the region ought to pay more attention to the evolution of the science worldwide, and should seek to set benchmarks rather than play catch-up. To reference a recent Audemars Piguet campaign, “To break the rules, you must first master them.”
Today’s consumer is more intelligent, more digital savvy and more research oriented than ever before, and cannot be brainwashed into thinking your product or service is the greatest thing since pita bread. So, considerably more important than extolling the virtues of said product or service is ensuring that it is indeed something of value, credibility and significance. The next step, then, is to tell the world all about it, because they deserve to know.
So, here, in no particular order, are the five Is to brandish as a potent toolkit when developing communication – offline of digital – for your MENA audience.
Speak clearly and honestly, and use superlatives sparingly. Dubai-based marketers’ obsession with over-the-top claims of the finest, greatest, best, most splendiferous this or that evokes more cynicism these days than awe and wonder, particularly if you’re not promoting the Rolls Royce Dawn or that truly magnificent seven-star feat of engineering and hospitality in Jumeirah. Simply put, the latest Uber-like taxi service is not going to change your life, it’ll just make getting around a tiny bit easier. So tell it like it is.
Tell people what they need, and want, to know, but don’t overwhelm them with pointless ramblings. Their time is precious, and they’re prone to thinking you don’t respect their time if you go on, ad nauseam. For example, tell them about the Michelin-star chef who now heads your restaurant’s kitchen, or the super-convenient valet parking service you provide. Don’t bore them with details about how the valet attendant's uniform was designed by the restaurant owner’s fashion-designer daughter.
Consumers today are smarter than ever before. And many make their purchasing decisions after consulting with their social circle: up to 70% under the age of 40 in the UAE rely on their circle of influencers before buying. So don’t talk down to them; they know what’s up. For instance, buyers of designer fashion know the difference between ready-to-wear, made-to-measure and bespoke, so speak to them in a language they understand and appreciate.
Explain what makes your embroidered kaftaans or vertigo-inducing stilettos so desirable and unique, and appeal to their need for status and exclusivity. Furnishing relevant, evocative details endears your customers to your brand, and gets them talking to their friends about you. If you’re on their Instagram, you know you did something right.
Do things differently and memorably. Remember how Emirates, arguably the world’s best loved airline, turned the recent laptop and tablet ban into something endearingly funny and memorable?
They acted double-quick after the ban was announced, and posted a short video promoting their legendary in-flight entertainment as the antidote. And they didn’t even have to do a special shoot! They simply edited existing footage from their recent campaign starring Jennifer Aniston to create something relevant and reassuring, and put smiles on faces while they were at it.
In essence, they took a negative situation and turned it into something wholly positive, while making it work for their brand at the same time, by:
- Reassuring customers that it wasn’t all doom and gloom;
- Grabbing the opportunity to promote their in-flight entertainment service;
- Using existing resources, i.e. archived advertising footage, to produce something cheaply, quickly and effectively;
- Endearing their existing audience, and perhaps others as well, to their brand
- Earning tremendous media coverage from some of the most influential international media outlets
See what they did there? Now, that’s clever!
Listen to your customers. Then show them how you’ve actually been paying attention. Closely monitor what they have to say on Twitter, forums, and comments on your blog posts. For instance if they have expressed displeasure about your product or service, don’t have an existential meltdown or liken them as Voldemort. Even the most heated comment usually has a bit – or a lot – of truth to it. The trick is to respond, not react (that’s great life advice as well, in case you’re taking notes).
Also, avoid like the plague those cookie-cutter responses like, “Your comment has been duly noted. We will take up the matter internally,” but instead be authentic in your tone and intent.
Find the problem, address it, and then let your customers know they’ve been heard.
So, to recap, the 5 Is for massive-impact marketing in the Middle East are:
- Integrity: Always be authentic in your messaging.
- Information: Avoid overload and keep it relevant and useful.
- Intelligence: Recognise that your customers may be smarter than you think, and communicate accordingly.
- Ingenuity: A real-life, best practice example of effective marketing in the Middle East is the response by Emirates Airline to Trump’s laptop ban. Follow that formula.
- Inclusion: Engage your audience meaningfully. Customers who feel a powerful connection to your brand will adore, advocate and defend it.
So that, in a rather large nutshell, are the five Is to consider adopting, to make your Middle East marketing and communication more customer-centric and effective. And while this list is by no means exhaustive, it is a prescription that’s bound to work positively for your brand.
Leonard Rego is CEO and Creative Director at Dubai-based Eleven777 Design and Advertising, who have been adding copious amounts of their own secret sauce to traditional and digital marketing, within the MENA context, since 2007. For more helpful marketing and communication insights, connect with him on LinkedIn or follow Eleven777 on Twitter and Facebook.